As joyous Bishop Miege High School football players, families and friends celebrated Saturday afternoon on the field at Hummer Sports Park, Stags’ junior halfback Dawson Downing was approached by a boy probably half his age.
The youngster asked Downing if he could have the gloves he wore during the game.
“No, I’ve got to keep these, buddy,” Downing politely told him.
No doubt that Downing had a hand in Bishop Miege’s overwhelming, sometimes dominating, success this season. Now, he hopes to have his fingerprints on a potential repeat in 2015.
Downing, who was instrumental as the Stags completed an undefeated season by knocking off Topeka Hayden 42-35 in the Kansas Class 4A Division I state championship game, is a major part of the Bishop Miege nucleus that returns next season for the five-time state champs.
“We’ve got some key guys coming back who should help us. We should be in the playoffs and hopefully right back here,” said Downing, who rushed for more than 1,900 yards this season, including 154 and three touchdowns in the title game.
The Stags, who went 13-0 under the guidance of coach Jon Holmes to mark the first time in school history they notched that many victories, must say goodbye to seniors who helped make all of this possible. Among the seniors are quarterback Ryan Willis, who passed for more than 3,000 yards this season and is committed to Kansas; wide receiver Chris Ford, linebackers Mark Ogren and CJ Grunhard; kicker Sean Galey; and defensive linemen Zach Mahoney and Pete Smardo.
Their contributions won’t soon be forgotten. Talk about a decisive unit — Bishop Miege outscored the opposition 595-166 during the season. By average, that is 45.8 to 12.8. Often the Stags’ offense received a heap of the praise, but that defense recorded four shutouts.
“I wanted the seniors to go out on top,” said Bishop Miege sophomore wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, whose performance against Topeka Hayden is one reason the Stags have high hopes for the future. He totaled 222 yards in eight catches and two touchdowns.
“He’s an athlete,” Willis said. “I’m trying to get him to come to KU with me, but he’s still a young pup.”
Bishop Miege plans to bring back several players who made a difference this season. They include juniors Rees Alena and Zack MacDonald (linebackers), Kaelin Key (defensive lineman), Keegan Wilson (strong safety), Danny Murphy (wide receiver) and two-way player Nolan Gray, who capped Bishop Miege’s scoring in the title game on a 17-yard reception.
“I think we’ll be just as good next year,” said Bishop Miege senior strong safety Vince Stephenson, whose fourth-quarter interception in the championship was huge.
But first, let the Stags relish Saturday’s state title victory. Downing certainly did, and he hopes that this fantastic voyage sets the tone for what comes next.
“I don’t think (winning state) makes it (repeating in 2015) any easier,” Downing said. “It just gives guys the experience they need to be able to fight through some of the challenges we faced when we had to respond to them.”